Bishop Paprocki’s Decree Was Released on Orlando Massacre Anniversary

Catholics have continued to express their strong responses to Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s decree barring people in same-gender marriages from participation in church activities, including being denied funerals. To read further about the decree, click here. For more reactions, click here.

Bishop Paprocki (1)Deb Word of Fortunate Families wrote an open letter to Paprocki, and noted that the decree was released on June 12, the one year anniversary of the massacre at an Orlando LGBT nightclub in which 49 people were murdered. Word wrote:

“I thought your decree was heartless and an assault on our families, our children, our church community. That was until I realized the date of the [decree]. You chose to remember the dead with a communication that says they were not worthy of BURIAL. I have never seen such hate and I am filled with grief and frankly nauseous that any human could do this. . .Please sir, resign. Or put down the pen. But please stop hurting my kids!”

To read an open letter to Paprocki from Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, click here.

On Vox.com, Brian Flanagan, a theologian at Marymount University, Virginia, believes Bishop Paprocki is “entirely qualified” to deem married gay Catholics as “manifest sinners,” according to canon law definitions.  Vox’s report continued:

“At the same time, [Flanagan] points out, other canon laws suggest that Paprocki’s narrow interpretation is itself problematic: He notes that, generally speaking, when there’s room for interpretation, the governing principle of canon law is that a law should be interpreted ‘to the benefit of the baptized Catholic.'”

Flanagan also questioned whether Paprocki’s actions were prudent, saying “he’s essentially failed” in preventing scandal:

“[T]his decree’s mean-spiritedness deeply undermines respect for Catholic bishops and their teaching authority. Coming just after Pope Francis’s Year of Mercy, denying funerals to the departed and their grieving families seems jarringly unmerciful, and un-nuanced in its blanket application to married gay people as compared to other Catholics who fall short of perfection. . .the denial of a funeral to a married gay person is more scandalous to most Catholics than that funeral’s occurrence.”

Martin Pendergast, a member of London’s Farm Street Church LGBT Community, told Independent Catholic News:

“A number of [U.S.] bishops are locked into the realm of ideas rather than really responding to the reality of peoples’ lives which Pope Francis keeps urging ALL of us to do. . .LGBT Catholics, parents and families are not the stumbling blocks here, rather it is ideological bishops such as Bishop Paprocki who are the real cause for scandal.”

Dr Gemma Simmonds, C.J., a theologian at Heythrop College in England, added, “I hope that we can all work to build a scandalously merciful church rather than setting ourselves up as harsh judges of those whose judgement lies in God’s hands alone.”

Michael Sean Winters, writing in the National Catholic Reportersaid Paprocki “should be sacked.” Winters says that Paprocki’s action “warrants the extreme sanction of removal from office proposed in the motu proprio, Come una madre amorevole.” He continued:

“If I were a bishop, and I think we can all agree it is a good thing I am not, but if I were, I would issue a decree that Tom Paprocki can’t be buried in my diocese. As it is, I suspect 95 percent of the bishops in this country were horrified by what Paprocki did, and the other five percent, while not horrified, would not follow his lead.”

Finally, Steve Jones submitted a letter to The State Journal-Register opposing the decree despite Jones’ own reservations about marriage equality. He wrote:

“Maybe Bishop Paprocki should open his eyes and see what his flock has been seeing for years. Such as Catholic grade schools closing because of lack of students, Masses not full, and the younger generations not involved in the church, largely in part to the gross mishandling of the priest abuse scandal. Don’t believe me, go to a Catholic Mass and count the number of attendees who might fall between the ages of 16 and 36. . .Now is the time for the Catholic Church to unite and grow, not divide and continue its downward spiral.”

Jones concluded by referencing Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” statement, adding, “the God I pray to at night loves people for who they are, not who I want them to be.”

New Ways Ministry recommends you to send your own letter to Bishop Paprocki, and we encourage you to communicate honestly, personally, and civilly with him. 

Contact information:

Bishop Thomas Paprocki

Catholic Pastoral Center

1615 West Washington Street

Springfield, Illinois 62702-4757

Phone: (217) 698-8500

Email:  tjpaprocki@dio.org

For continuing updates on Bishop Paprocki’s decree and more Catholic LGBT news, subscribe to Bondings 2.0 using the box in the upper right hand corner of this page.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 29, 2017

QUOTE TO NOTE: Longer Communion Lines, When All Are Welcome

Though the Eucharist should be an unmitigated source of unity for Catholics, too often the Communion line becomes a place for exclusion. People deemed “unworthy” do not receive or are even denied Communion, and these “unworthy” people have too often included LGBT Catholics and their families.

computer_key_Quotation_MarksBut after several years of dialogue, and sometimes sharp debate, is Pope Francis’ desire for a more welcoming and merciful church being realized at the Communion line? Perhaps, answered one parish priest writing for Commonweal

The priest, who uses the pseudonym “Fr. Nonomen,” wrote about an encounter he had in the produce section of his local market. A woman shared with him that she was moved greatly when she saw her former pastor, a Fr. Ed who left the priesthood to marry, receive Communion at the Easter Vigil this year. Fr. Nonomen quoted her:

“In that moment, I knew. . .I was suddenly filled with a joyful, peaceful assurance that the church I love would weather the storms and issues that seem sometimes to tear it apart. Seeing Father Ed with his wife showed me how God is always doing something new! As they received Communion, I saw that there is room for all in Christ. And that has helped heal my heart.'”

Fr. Nonomen reflected on the many other people who helped him see “that the depth and breadth of humanity was in the Communion line. . .drawn to one table, one altar, one Lord.” In them, he saw “a foretaste of what liturgists call ‘the heavenly banquet.'” When everyone who sought Communion received that night, there was not, as church leaders often warn of, “scandal.” There was healing. The priest concluded:

“The more intriguing question, perhaps, is not how but why this happened. I figure it to be a lesson in grace. At a time when elitism and intolerance have crept into so many facets of life, the Lord insists that the Kingdom of God will be otherwise and often surprises us with glimpses of it right here, right now. The people of the Kingdom are a richly diverse people, aware of their need and drawn to the God who welcomes all and lavishes grace on all, even that former priest, even that same-sex couple. . . “

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Vatican II identifies eucharistic liturgy as the source from which and summit to which our Christian lives ebb and flow. There is no greater test for how inclusive the church is in reality than how many people feel comfortable to approach and be welcomed into the Communion line.

In Fr. Nonomen’s lesson of grace, I also see longer lines at Mass as a sign that the tireless efforts of LGBT Catholics and their allies are finally able to bear fruit in the new space Pope Francis has created.

Do you agree? Did you see longer, more inclusive Communion lines at Mass today? How have you witnessed the unity of God’s people being made real in liturgy? 

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 7, 2017

Same-Gender Love “Not a Natural Condition,” Says Vatican Official

A senior Vatican official who defended the reception of Communion by divorced and remarried Catholics has said such openness does not apply to same-gender relationships, which he said were “not a natural condition.”

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Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio

Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, made his comments in a recent interview with Crux.

The cardinal sparked headlines earlier this month for publishing a booklet in which he defended Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. Crux reported further:

“Asked if this interpretation applies also to gay couples who live together, some civilly married too, Coccopalmerio said that it’s ‘clearly’ not the same situation because for Church teaching and doctrine, ‘it’s not a natural condition. We can accept them, welcome them, accept their decision, but it’s not [the same].'”

The booklet, titled The Eighth Chapter of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation ‘Amoris Laetitia’, was offered as a “simplification” against claims by more traditionalist Catholics that there was doctrinal confusion, Coccopalmerio said. Though not released in any formal capacity, his comments are especially noteworthy because the Pontifical Council he oversees is charged with interpreting church documents. He is also a member of both the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Apostolic Signatura.

Coccopalmerio’s reasoning is worth a closer consideration given his tenuous claim that same-gender couples can not be included in his communion idea. In the booklet, the cardinal explained the conditions under which a Catholic in a “non-legitimate” heterosexual relationship could receive Communion: the person is “conscious of the wrongness of the situation, has the desire to change it but can’t because it would hurt innocent people, such as the children,” and has consulted a priest and/or bishop to find a “common solution” through dialogue. America reported on a case study offered by the cardinal:

“He cited as an example the case of a woman who is free to marry according to church law and decides to enter into a stable relationship and lives with a married man, whose wife had left him with three young children. In such a case, he explained, ‘the children would now consider her their mother and for the man, she is his life,’ as she means everything to him. If she eventually recognizes the problem with her situation and decides to leave, then her husband and children will find themselves in great difficulty. But the cardinal said, ‘If this woman concludes “I cannot leave. I cannot do such harm to them,” then this situation, where she wants to change but cannot change, opens the possibility of admissions to the sacraments.’

“In such a situation, the cardinal said, there is the recognition of sin and the sincere desire to change but also the impossibility of making it happen. In this situation, he would tell her, ‘remain in this situation, and I absolve you.’ While he said that he has never had to refuse absolution to anyone, the cardinal nevertheless insisted that ‘one cannot give absolution except to persons who are repentant and desire or want to change their situation, even if they cannot put their desire into practice now because that would harm innocent persons.’ In this way, he said, ‘the doctrine is safeguarded but takes account of the impossibility.’

Coccopalmerio also said that ideally such a couple should live without sexual intimacy, but also noted that Amoris Laetitia referenced Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes, where it is acknowledged that lack of such intimacy could deeply harm relationships. It may be impossible, he admitted, for couples in “non-legitimate” situations to practice complete abstinence. He ultimately affirmed the necessity of Catholics in these situations to make a conscience decision.

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I explained his reasoning in such detail above because as I read the interview, I wondered why his reasoning about Catholics who are divorced and remarried cannot, in his estimation, apply to Catholics in same-gender relationships. If his positions are accepted and engaged, then shouldn’t same-gender couples be able to receive Communion after consulting a priest, making penance, and following their consciences, even if they remain in such situations? Granted, given the Magisterium’s present articulations of church doctrine, there are differences between the two groups, but appeals to conscience make no such distinctions. Every person is mandated to follow the decisions of a properly formed conscience.

The reason for Coccopalmerio’s dissonance is his statement about same-gender relationships as “not a natural condition.” Such a statement reveals inadequate knowledge about sexuality, and likely an unfamiliarity with the lives of LGB people. He appears unable to imagine same-gender relationships as loving and generative, and worse yet, he seems to imply LGB people have less moral agency than their heterosexual peers.

Cardinal Coccopalmerio is not the first, and sadly will not be the last, church leader to hold such errant views about sexuality. But I find his remarks particularly disheartening. When news of his booklet first broke, I was glad to see a Vatican official so willing to practice the mercy and respect for conscience called for by Pope Francis. That he could not extend that willingness to include LGBT people greatly undercuts his message. I pray his eyes will be opened to that natural and divine spark found and mixed-gender and same-gender relationships alike.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 24, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

Catholics React Swiftly and Strongly to Archbishop’s Restrictive Guidelines

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Archbishop Charles Chaput

Pastoral guidelines excluding LGBT people from church ministries and encouraging same-gender couples and others to refrain from Communion have provoked strong responses in the Philadelphia area.

Archbishop Charles Chaput released the guidelines as his response to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, though they many have found them contradictory to the the document.

The guidelines instruct church ministers to restrict LGBT people from parish ministries, and to deny Communion to many others. Chaput said that same-gender couples offer a “serious counter-witness to Catholic belief” and “undermine the faith of the community.”

Responses to these restrictive guidelines have been swift and strong. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, a Catholic, tweeted that Jesus gave Communion out of love and to all people, and therefore “Chaput’s actions are not Christian.”

Stephen Seufert of Keystone Catholics, an online advocacy organization, criticized the archbishop in The Huffington Posthighlighting a challenging illustration to the ban on LGBT people in ministry:

“I hate to break it to Archbishop Chaput, but there are likely thousands of sexually active LGBT Catholics serving in ministry positions across the world. They’re consoling families, teaching children, healing the sick, feeding the poor, and are administering sacraments like the Eucharist. The Church would most certainly be poorer spiritually if all LGBT Catholics were removed from leadership positions.”

Seufert questioned the impact Archbishop Chaput’s lengthy LGBT-negative record has caused, and the further implications it may have. Citing the Jesuit truism about finding God in all things, Seufert concluded:

“If Archbishop Chaput can’t find any semblance of God in civilly married same-sex couples and their families, he’s not spending enough time with LGBT people and their families. . .

“He may not realizes this, but the more Archbishop Chaput resists civil liberties for non-traditional families, the more likely Catholics will push for internal change within the Church on marriage and the family. This internal change will occur with or without people like Archbishop Chaput because an ever increasing number of straight Catholics like me are taking the time to learn about, live with, and unconditionally love their LGBT brothers and sisters.”

It is an established reality that U.S. Catholics are, as Seufert noted, overwhelmingly supportive of LGBT rights. This dissonance between how Catholics are practicing their faith and what the archbishop seeks to impose could be problematic.

Kevin Hughes, a theology professor at Villanova University, Pennsylvania, told the Delco Times the ambiguities in Amoris Laetitia mean implementation could either expand pastoral care or it could lead to restrictions. If it is the latter, as with Chaput’s guidelines, Hughes said:

“I think there are parish communities in which divorced and civilly remarried people and/or gay couples are active participants in the life of a parish. The guidelines will ask for some very serious soul-searching among pastors and parishioners alike, and it will be very painful for some communities to sort out the questions of leadership and liturgical roles.”

Not all priests in the Archdiocese are following Chaput’s path. Fr. Joseph Corley of Blessed Virgin Mary Church, Darby, will host a discussion of the exhortation and the guidelines at his suburban Philadelphia parish, but with the aim of “helping people to develop an informed conscience.”

Letters to the editor published by The Inquirer in Philadelphia reveal members of the Catholic faithful deeply critical of the archbishop. Laura Szatny wrote that the “sheer arrogance and un-Christian attitude of Chaput continue to stun.” Kate Fleming questioned his priorities, noting the archbishop’s opposition to state legislation expanding the statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse:

“Archbishop Charles Chaput should focus on policing his priests, who take a vow of celibacy, instead of his flock. Protecting innocent victims of sexual abuse by his employees seems to be a much more important problem than the sex lives of lay Catholics.”

Writing in Philly Mag, columnist Liz Spikol also noted the abuse scandals currently exploding in the Pennsylvania church and the harm the church has caused to people. She queried:

“Obviously, Chaput had no personal involvement in the tragic case of Brian Gergely [an clergy abuse survivor who committed suicide the same week the guidelines were released]. But Gergely’s fellow survivors know the kind of Church Chaput represents all too well — the kind where higher-ups are exalted regardless of their lack of humanity, where preventing scandal is more important that preventing harm. . .

“In his Pastoral Guidelines, Chaput refused to use common terms for members of the LGBT community. . .It is utterly dehumanizing. When will Chaput and those in his circle understand that his hardline approach, which has already caused so much damage, only does the Church harm? I look forward to the day when the Philadelphia Archdiocese — as well as those in other parts of Pennsylvania — serve as a model for Francis’s supremely humane teachings.”

Catholics all over Philadelphia have criticized the archbishop adequately. I would add only one more point to their observations. In Amoris Laetitia, one of the most striking lines from Pope Francis is when he addresses church ministers with these words, “We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.” There is much more in the 256-page document that contradicts Chaput’s guidelines, but these words about conscience seem paramount. The archbishop continues to replace Catholics’ consciences with his own judgements. Thankfully, Philadelphia Catholics are still listening to the that voice of God echoing in the depths of their being, and living the Gospel as they know best.

You can read more about the pastoral guidelines by clicking here. You can access New Ways Ministry’s statement in response by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

New Guidelines Ban LGBT People from Parish Ministries

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Archbishop Charles Chaput

In new guidelines, Philadelphia’s archbishop has banned people in same-gender relationships from pastoral or liturgical roles.

Archbishop Charles Chaput’s guidelines are a response to Amoris LaetitiaPope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on family, and the synodal process preceding the exhortation’s April publication. The guidelines, which became effective July 1, instruct church ministers involved with marriage and family life, or the church’s sacramental life on handling Catholics in diverse family arrangements.  In addition to restrictions on same-gender couples, the guidelines also tell pastors not to distribute communion to couples who are divorced and civilly remarried, as well as couples who are cohabitating.

(For New Ways Ministry’s response to the guidelines, click here.)

Addressing the pastoral care of people in same-gender relationships, Chaput wrote that pastors must prudentially judge an appropriate response to couples who “present themselves openly in a parish.” He continued:

“But two persons in an active, public same-sex relationship, no matter how sincere, offer a serious counter-witness to Catholic belief, which can only produce moral confusion in the community. Such a relationship cannot be accepted into the life of the parish without undermining the faith of the community, most notably the children.

“Finally, those living openly same-sex lifestyles should not hold positions of responsibility in a parish, nor should they carry out any liturgical ministry or function.”

Under a section titled “For persons who experience same-sex attraction,” Chaput said lesbian, bisexual, and gay Catholics should “struggle to live chastely” and celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation frequently.

Michael Rocks, president of Dignity/Philadelphia, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he was “not surprised” by Chaput issuing such harsh guidelines, but questioned them nonetheless:

” ‘But I wonder how they tell if straight people are following the sexual rules of the church. . .How do they tell if the president of the parish council isn’t into child pornography or having a sexual relationship?’ “

Michael Sean Winters, a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, said that instead of acknowledging the fullness of marriage and family, “in Philadelphia, it is all about the genitalia.” He continued:

“So intent are prelates like Archbishop Chaput in refusing to think there is anything really worth discussing here, they wish to shut down and foreclose the pope’s obvious invitation to discussion and adult decision making. . .

“When Archbishop Chaput gets to the situation of gay and lesbian Catholics, he declines to even show the simple respect of referring to gays and lesbians as they refer to themselves, adopting the awkward, and rude, circumlocution “those who experience same sex attraction. . .When such respect is seen to coincide with even the tiniest possibility that an opportunity to denounce homosexual relations as sinful will be missed, too many prelates follow Archbishop Chaput and decline the respect and seize the opportunity.”

Archbishop Chaput acknowledged part of the guidelines as a “hard teaching,” but insisted on these guidelines in the archdiocese. His record on LGBT issues had been already quite troubling before these guidelines were announced. He previously ejected LGBT organizations from hosting programs at a Catholic parish, and he warned LGBT Catholics against protesting ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States. Locally, he implemented a morality pledge for parents of Catholic schoolchildren that includes non-support of LGBT equality, dismissed the concerns of a Catholic mother with gay sons, and said he was “very grateful” lesbian educator Margie Winters had been fired by the Sisters of Mercy. This list of problematic statements and actions against LGBT people goes on.

Even with this record, banning Catholics in loving, fruitful same-gender relationships from all parish and liturgical ministries is notable. This exclusionary stance not only harms LGBT people and their families, but hinders the church’s mission too by depriving it of the many gifts and talents that faithful LGBT people offer the People of God.

Unfortunately, the archbishop’s merciless stance may not be limited to Philadelphia. Chaput, who participated in the 2015 General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, was appointed by U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ President Archbishop Joseph Kurtz to head a working group tasked with “furthering the reception and implementation of” Amoris Laetitia. He chairs, too, the Conference’s Committee on Family Life, and was elected to the Synod of Bishops’ 12-member permanent council.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Priest Who Denied Communion to Same-Gender Couple Now Disrupts Parishioner’s Funeral

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St. Leo’s Catholic Church

A Montana priest’s disruption of a parishioner’s funeral recently has its roots in his denial of communion to a same-gender couple in the parish in 2014.

Almost two years ago, Fr.  Spiering, 29, denied Communion to Paul Huff and Tom Wojtowick because the two men had recently married. The pastor expelled them from parish ministries in which they had been active. Fellow parishioners at St. Leo’s Catholic Church in Lewistown protested the priest’s act at the time, including resignations by the church choir’s director and several members.

Earlier this month, at least three of those former choir members and director Janie Shupe were invited by the Valach family to sing at the funeral of Pearl Valach, a parishioner at the church for all of her 92 years. Ms. Valach had disagreed at the time with the priest’s decision to deny Communion to Huff and Wojtowick but remained in the church. Her daughter-in-law, Susan Valach, explained to the Great Falls Tribune:

“She was upset when the decision was made. . .She continued to be faithful to the church, but with pain in her heart.”

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Pearl Valach

Greg Clark, partner of Pearl’s son Frank Valach Jr. for twenty-plus years, said Pearl was so pained by the priest’s actions that she never spoke about it. But Greg, Frank, and other members of the Valach family left the parish after the communion denial. They said the decision to hold the funeral at St. Leo’s was painful, but did so to respect Pearl’s wishes.

When Valach’s loved ones and parishioners–more than 300 people–gathered for the funeral on the morning of March 8, he told Shupe she could not join the singers, but she could only participate at the funeral from her pew. Shupe explained:

” ‘It was mortifying. It was the most embarrassing thing. I could have stepped down, but at the same time I thought, “That’s ridiculous “. . .I can’t believe anyone in the right mind, let alone anyone who professes to love God, could do this.’ “

Fr. Dan O’Rourke, the parish’s former pastor who was invited to celebrate the funeral, defended Shupe’s right to lead singing. After he argued with Spiering about the decision, Spiering threatened to prevent O’Rourke from presiding at the funeral, and threatened to ban him from the parish. The family, however, refused to let their mother’s funeral be tarnished by Spiering’s continued exclusion. When Spiering informed Valach’s widower, Frank Valach, that the he would now celebrate the funeral Mass, the family rejected that offering and demanded Fr. O’Rourke. Susan Valach explained:

” ‘We immediately said, “Absolutely, no”. . .I went up to the choir and said we would cancel. Our family was so upset and finally (Spiering) agreed to leave. . .

” ‘As a family, we would like to let this go, but it isn’t right. . .It hurts all Christians because it’s not compassionate.’ “

Fr. Jay Peterson, vicar general for the Great Falls-Billings Diocese who was in attendance, presided at the funeral Mass. Peterson invited the women, including Janie Shupe, to lead the singing. Greg Clark said all involved were able to put aside the pre-funeral antics of Spiering for a “reverent, celebratory, and beautiful” liturgy. Clark wrote on his blog [editor’s note: he uses strong language in the blog post]:

“For the balance of the day our family basked in her glow. And there was no doubt that God was with us. Hence against all odds, our love for her conquered all. It wasn’t until later that evening that our angst and frustration over the morning’s events arose again. All must be told about the sins of that Father.”

But the incident — and the harm done — has not ended. This controversy continued to play out in the following weeks. Spiering commented on the incident before his homily at Mass on March 22, stating the he does not regret the decision he made but only the manner in which he made it. He attacked Fr. O’Rourke in his statement and promised St. Leo’s parishioners a new funeral policy to “prevent such problems” in the future. Spiering apologized to the Valach family in a one-liner at the end, but the family said neither the priest nor Bishop Michael Warfel had reached out to them since the funeral.

Fr. O’Rourke released his own statement, explaining that Spiering would not let the matter drop even though the funeral was set to begin in fifteen minutes and had threatened to ban him from the parish. The former pastor’s statement ended positively: “The singer/musician sang her heart out.”

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Tom Wojtowick and Paul Huff

Fr. Peterson, in his position as diocesan vicar general, defended Spiering’s actions as an exercise of his “canonical rights” despite it not being “the right pastoral decision.” Peterson said Bishop Michael Warfel was “very concerned” about the incident, which was described as an “unfortunate conflict.” Peterson, a longtime friend of the Valach family, said despite it being Holy Week he hoped “things can be dealt with sooner than later to bring healing and unity and peace” and would be involved if he could help, reported the Independent Record.

In the words of a Billings Gazette reporter:

“It was supposed to be a simple funeral for a woman who was a lifelong Catholic and a lifetime member of St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Lewistown. . .Instead, it devolved into a disagreement that nearly derailed the rite and left family and friends confused and angry.”

Few incidents in the church hurt more than sacramental exclusion and interference. These incidents cause tremendous pastoral damage to those targeted  and those witnessing these The tragic nature of this funeral incident speaks for itself. Coupled with Spiering’s denial of Communion to a same-gender couple, this funeral fiasco should be enough for Bishop Warfel to question Fr. Spiering’s ministerial competencies and role in active ministry and in the priesthood altogether.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Top Catechist Calls Teaching on Homosexuality “Nonsensical”

 

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Fr. Rene Camilleri

Malta’s top catechist has questioned Catholic teachings on homosexuality and criticized a position paper about reparative therapy released by that nation’s bishops last week.

Fr. Rene Camilleri, who heads Malta’s Secretariat for Catechesis and is the Archbishop’s Delegate for Evangelization, called church doctrine on homosexuality “nonsensical,” reported Malta Today. He said:

” ‘The Catholic Church’s doctrine still refers to homosexuality in terms of it being an illness or a disorder. . .Speaking like that in today’s society is simply nonsensical.’ “

Camilleri was responding to a position paper from the Maltese bishops opposing the criminalization of reparative therapy, a proposal currently under consideration by the island nation’s legislature. The paper linked homosexuality to pedophilia and to mental illness, prompting strong criticism and even an acknowledgement from Archbishop Charles Scicluna that the paper was a mistake. Camilleri added his own critiques, saying:

” ‘My objection to this position paper is that it seems as though the Church still believes that it is possible to convert homosexuals, which is unacceptable to me. . .we cannot accept the presence of gay conversion therapy on the market in this day and age.’ . . .

” ‘I have my doubts as to the paper’s intended target audience, but if it was addressed to the general public, then mentioning paedophilia in such a delicate topic was always going to leave room for misinterpretation.’ “

This is not Fr. Camilleri’s first time speaking positively about LGBT issues. Last year, he weighed in about a Maltese priest’s decision to bless the engagement rings of a same-sex couple in The Independent. Uncertain whether he would bless such rings, Camilleri still affirmed the other priest’s decision and said ministers “cannot deprive [same-gender couples] of the blessing for which they ask.” He continued:

” ‘Priests are going to face this kind of situation and others that are similar during our pastoral work in new emerging situations that need our utmost pastoral sensibility. The Church should always keep the person at the centre of her existence because her main concern is not to safeguard the law. If a person decides to change his or her way of life and does not conform to Church teachings, the Church itself cannot just slam the decision and use condemnatory language in their regard. . .We are there to accompany people, wherever they are and whatever they choose to do.’ “

Camilleri said that, faced with emerging realities like same-gender civil unions and gender identity protections, the church “cannot afford to keep repeating old teachings because these realities are here to stay.” Informed by new contexts and understandings, the church must “do a lot of rethinking” and “take bold choices,” ever mindful that “the only reason the Church exists are people themselves.”

In 2012, the catechist said church leaders were wrong to oppose adoption by lesbian and gay people and that “the suitability of a person cannot be determined by sexual orientation or marital status.” It should be the children’s interests, not stereotypes, which dictate adoption policies, reported Times of Malta.

Malta’s top catechist has spoken, too, about reforming the church towards what Pope Francis envisions, stating in a January interview with Malta Today:

” ‘[Pope Francis] seems no longer to be there as Pope to safeguard doctrine, but to safeguard mainly the freedom and dignity of people to decide on their own. In all this the role of the church is not seen mainly as that of teaching and guarding right doctrine, but of being there to accompany people in their own journeys.’ “

 

In recent years, people living in highly-Catholic Malta have increasingly decided that LGBT civil rights are supported by their faith and acted freely to advance them. The island nation hosts Drachma, a group for LGBT Catholics, and the Drachma Parents’ Group, which favorably influenced last year’s Synod on the Family. The Maltese government passed a transgender protections law in 2015 that is now considered the gold standard in Europe and legalized civil unions in 2013. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has now announced his support for marriage equality, saying the country is ready to debate the issue.

Fr. Camilleri’s comments about the “nonsensical” underpinnings to the church’s teaching on homosexuality are wonderfully honest. His willingness to criticize his own superiors and, even more so, their willingness to hear such criticism and respond accordingly are signs of progress, too. This freedom to converse more openly now about the problems in the church which many have identified for decades is refreshing. Catholic theology and pastoral practices can and will only improve under such conditions, particularly on issues of sexuality, gender, and relationships. I hope Maltese church leaders’ actions these past few weeks will be an example that spreads globally.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry